After a first round that saw a record five Game 7s and 50 out of a possible 56 games played, predictability returned for the next two rounds. Matchups of the top two seeds in each conference finals series has led to the first rematch in the NBA Finals since 1998.
For the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, it has been a different year but the same destination. The Heat is looking for their third consecutive championship, while the Spurs are once again going for the fifth of the Popovich/Duncan era. One year ago, Miami defeated San Antonio in seven games, in one of the greatest Finals ever.
The Spurs were as close as one can be and not win the title—one was exactly how close they were. One more free throw, one more rebound, one more closeout on a shooter, just one, and the title would have been theirs. But Manu Ginobili did not make that free throw; Tim Duncan did not get that rebound; Tony Parker did not closeout that shooter; and it has been all they have thought about ever since.
Ray Allen’s corner jumper off a Chris Bosh offensive rebound following one more missed Ginobili free throw tied the Spurs in the last five seconds of Game 6, ultimately forcing overtime. Miami closed the deal that night, as well as in Game 7 in another tight game, to deny the Spurs ‘one for the thumb,’ a fifth ring. Thoughts of this have consumed the Spurs. Now the two meet again, but it will be San Antonio with a Game 7 on their floor if it happens.
The Spurs went a league-best 62-20 even with giving frequent rest to their ‘Big Three’ of Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker. They know it was lacking just that last ounce of energy a year ago, costing them at the end. After a first round struggle in seven over Dallas, the Spurs have been very economical in their energy reserves finishing Portland in five and winning a tight Game 6 in Oklahoma City. They hope lessons learned (and just that little energy saved) will be the difference this time around.
Miami breezed through the weaker Eastern Conference—sweeping Charlotte, defeating Brooklyn in five, and vanquishing Indiana in six. Not having home-court advantage will not faze them. They were not against Indiana, until they won Game 2 there. It is all about the ending, not the beginning.
With younger teams such as the Clippers and Thunder, and teams full of potential like the Bulls and Rockets waiting in the wings, this may be the last go ‘round for the Heat and Spurs. It may be a long time before we see a core like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in Miami. We may never see a team that plays in the fundamental excellence that San Antonio plays every night.
As last year suggests, this is an even series. San Antonio had them. They had Miami beaten last year, with just one more something. Normally in an even matchup, you look to the team with the best player, but the Spurs are special. I look for San Antonio to get that one more something and edge the Heat in seven thrilling games.
If these Finals are half as good as last year’s Finals, it will be a series to remember. The classic 2-2-1-1-1 format will be used, with the first two in San Antonio, the next two in Miami, and then alternating until the finish.